N-acetylcysteine (NAC) Improves Immunity Against the Flu

November 15, 2011 | Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

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N-acetylcysteine (NAC) Improves Immunity Against the Flu
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N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an important nutrient for respiratory health and immunity, including defense against the flu. The nutrient has been used longer than four decades to help break up and clear mucous from the airways. The latest research continues to show that it is a potent anti-viral compound warranting widespread use in the winter months to help ward off the common cold as well as the flu.

NAC has long been known as a flu-fighting nutrient based on a 1997 study of 262 older adults who participated in a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study over a six-month period, some taking 600 mg of NAC twice daily or the others placebo. Individuals taking NAC were much less likely to have clinical influenza illness (29 percent of the NAC group compared to 51 percent of the placebo group. Flu that did occur in the NAC group was much less severe. Tests showed that cell-mediated immunity continually improved with NAC supplementation whereas it remained unchanged in the placebo group.

In modern times NAC has continued to impress. Those with compromised lung function are at very high risk for problems should they get a respiratory infection. In such patients NAC has been shown to reduce respiratory symptoms, reduce flu virus replication, and dramatically lower the inflammatory damage caused by viral infection. This means NAC is good nutritional support for any person who typically is susceptible to respiratory infection.

NAC was shown to be effective against the potentially pandemic H5N1 virus, demonstrating direct anti-viral properties and reduction of H5N1 replication. NAC also reduced the inflammatory signaling caused by H5N1, which is what leads to the cytokine storm that causes severe and potentially life threatening infection. The researchers concluded, “antioxidants like NAC represent a potential additional treatment option that could be considered in the case of an influenza A virus pandemic.”

As with any nutrient and an active infection, they do not replace proper medical care or treatment. Rather, they should be viewed as part of your support team to help prevent a problem or to help your body better cope should you get a bug so as to help reduce the severity as much as possible.

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